Mike Farnworth may be the man to lead the NDP

By David F. Rooney

The BC Liberals’ selection of a new leader this weekend should encourage New Democrats to choose a new leader of their own — one with a fresh approach and interesting ideas — perhaps someone like Mike Farnworth.

A minister in Mike Harcourt’s government in the 1990s, Farnworth left politics after the debacle of 2001 and worked in Bulgaria, the Balkans, and Iraq to help build multi-party democracies until 2004 when he returned to Canada and was re-elected in 2005.

“It was a very interesting time,” Farnworth said in an interview of his time abroad. “After 2001 it was one of those things where you ask yourself, ‘what do you do?’ I decided to do something different.

“When you think about it, it’s quite funny. I was working to help one-party states become democratic and then I come back to BC and find it a one-party state.”

Since that election Farnworth has served Opposition House Leader, and now serves as Opposition Critic for Public Safety and Solicitor General.

Farnworth, MLA for Port Coquitlam, is the front-runner for the party leadership. An Ipsos Reid online survey recently conducted for Global BC found that Farnworth’s early-campaign lead over his main rivals, MLAs Adrian Dix and John Horgan, has grown in recent weeks, while Dix’s popularity has declined. Overall, 27 per cent of British Columbians said Farnworth was the candidate who could most likely persuade them to vote NDP, according to the poll released Wednesday. Farnworth was chosen more often than all the other candidates combined. Only nine per cent of respondents said Dix was the candidate who could prompt them to vote for a New Democrat.

His breadth of experience suggests to him that the two parties’ positions are reversing. The Liberals who were popularly swept to power in 2001, almost eliminating the then-discredited NDP now find themselves publicly scorned by many British Columbians as being arrogant and out of touch.

“I see the Liberals making the same mistakes we made back in 1999-2001,” he said.

That’s complicated by what he regards as “a huge rural-urban disconnect.”

“Our rural communities are battered by crises in the forestry industry — that has to change,” he said, sounding not dissimilar to defeated Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott. “We have a wealth of human and natural resources. There is nothing we cannot do. But government has to work with the people.”

Farnworth, who was visiting rural ridings in the southern Kootenays last week, has a detailed vision of where he’d like to see British Columbia go, should he be fortunate enough to win the leadership race and the next election.

One of his key messages is that the provincial government should “sit down with communities on a regional basis,” perhaps using the Columbia Basin Trust as a model.

“I think the CBT is an excellent model,” he said. “It’s success shows how local people can take control of their economic destiny.”

Here, in brief, are some of his other beliefs:

  • A strong, dynamic economy where government works as a partner to produce the jobs and development we need to succeed. That includes a particular focus on rural economic development, recognizing that much of the province’s wealth has come from its natural resources. We need to continue to support our resource-based communities while making ongoing investments in the high-tech, green economies of the future.
  • Restoring honesty and integrity to government. The public is increasingly disenchanted with government and our democratic institutions. We need to reverse that trend and it starts by rebuilding trust. That means saying what we mean, meaning what we say, and delivering what we promise.
  • Protecting our province’s natural greatness. From both an economic and moral standpoint, we have a duty to protect and preserve the environment for future generations. That means making sustainability a key lens through which we examine public policy decisions.
  • Tackling the big issues. From public safety and transportation to the environment and the long-term financial health of the province, British Columbia is confronted by big, and often complex, issues. It’s time to address these issues in a determined and pragmatic way that achieves real results and delivers the real change British Columbians want.
  • Strengthening public services. British Columbians are proud of our public services like the health and education systems, but, we need to find new and creative ways to enhance them to better meet the needs of our communities and shifting demographics. The provincial government needs to look at communities as co-governors and work together to find cost-effective solutions. We need to move away from the command and control management style BC has been under for the last 10 years.

You can find out more about Mike Farnworth at his campaign website.